NDP 2020: Red Lions take on new challenge with jump into the heartland

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The Red Lions, a National Day Parade crowd favourite, will be making their jump in the heartland this year. The parachutists will be landing in Sengkang and Jurong and paying tribute to Covid-19 front-line workers.
Red Lions skydivers (from left) Major Neo Choon Chea, IWO Melvin Ho, 2WO Ong Kah Soon, 1WO Lim Chun Heng, 3WO Jeffrey Heng and 2WO Shirley Ng. They will land near Sengkang General Hospital on National Day.
Red Lions skydivers (from left) Major Neo Choon Chea, IWO Melvin Ho, 2WO Ong Kah Soon, 1WO Lim Chun Heng, 3WO Jeffrey Heng and 2WO Shirley Ng. They will land near Sengkang General Hospital on National Day. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Major Neo Choon Chea will be making his debut with the Red Lions skydivers on National Day this year.

He will be part of a six-person team landing near Sengkang General Hospital (SKGH). After being part of the ground coordinating party in two previous National Day Parades (NDPs), the 40-year-old said he was honoured to get his turn as a parachutist this year.

The Red Lions will land in heartland fields near SKGH and Ng Teng Fong General Hospital (NTFGH), which means smaller crowds on the ground but also a different set of challenges. This year's jump is a 1,525m plunge from a Republic of Singapore Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft, about half of the typical free-fall distance at NDPs.

Back in 2018, the Red Lions jumped from a height of 3,810m.

Jumping at a lower altitude reduces wind drift, and with high-rise buildings and expressways in the vicinity, the parachutists need to be very precise about where they drop, Maj Neo told the media last Friday.

It also means that the Red Lions will not be getting into their usual ring formation, as they need to deploy their parachutes soon after they jump from the aircraft.

"But this year... we will be flying with the state flag and NDP banners bearing the theme of unity," added Maj Neo, who has 350 jumps under his belt.

As part of the preparation before the jump, the parachutists do a mental rehearsal on board the aircraft, he said, by visualising what they have to do: the leap from the C-130, opening the parachute, deploying the banner and flag, and landing.

Besides Maj Neo, First Warrant Officer Chew Eng Seng, 45, is also participating in the NDP as a Red Lion for the first time this year, as part of a six-person team landing near NTFGH.

One of the parachutists landing at Sengkang this year is Second Warrant Officer (2WO) Shirley Ng, 42.

She is the only woman in the Red Lions and made her first parade appearance in 2014.

While she was also part of the Red Lions team in 2013, that year's jump did not happen due to poor weather.

Although the rehearsals started a month later this year, in July, the parachutists used a parachute flight simulator to prepare prior to rehearsals on-site.

Comparing the landing experience this year to a previous jump at the Marina Bay floating platform, 2WO Ng said: "In the heartland, even though it's not as rah-rah as usual... this jump is more for the front-line medical staff.

"It's about putting up a good show to give them moral support."

But this does not mean that it is a quiet affair for the Red Lions, she added. "It has been a surprise that the residents over here, as we land, they are cheering for us, waving to us from their windows and balconies - it's heartwarming (to see)."

Maj Neo, who is married with three daughters, said that his family came to watch one of the rehearsals in the middle of last month.

But while having them witness his parachute feat is a nice bonus, "this jump is (really) for the country and for the front-line fighters".

Referring to a banner put up by residents at the open field near SKGH, he said: "(They) put up a very lovely message for us, and we are really touched and encouraged by all these gestures."

The Red Lions will be landing at open fields near SKGH and NTFGH, in Sengkang East Road and Toh Guan Road respectively, on National Day morning.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2020, with the headline Red Lions take on new challenge with jump into the heartland. Subscribe